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Graphic organisers

Teaching strategies

Graphic organisers

Also known as advanced organisers. Another top 10 teaching strategy they ‘forget’ to teach you at university. A guide for teachers, teacher aides and parents.

Graphic organisers – a large number of usually paper-based tools that help students to visualise the relationships between facts, concepts, problems, themes or ideas.

School library.

Graphic organisers have been used by teachers for many years. While there are many types, they all have one thing in common: they organise information in one way or another. Graphic organisers show the relationship between one idea and another. They help learners to organise their thoughts, ideas, facts, understanding or beliefs all on a single page. While you can invent your own graphic organiser, there are many types that already exist including the fashionable KWL charts outlined in the previous strategy. Other popular graphic organisers include:

  • Venn diagrams – you may have learnt how to use Venn diagrams in maths class. They are used to show the relationship between 2 or 3 things. Overlapping circles are drawn in the middle of the page. Each circle represents a topic. Commonalities are recorded in the space where the 2 circles overlap, and the unique characteristics of each topic are recorded in the circle spaces that do not overlap.
  • Concept maps – concept maps start with a central idea and related aspects fan out like a spiderweb with increasing specificity. For example, students may be looking at the main theme of a book. They write ‘Theme’ in a centre bubble. Several lines are then drawn linking the main bubble to more bubbles that contain sub-themes. Below is an example of a concept map:
    Theme -> Journey -> Personal growth -> Accept issues from past -> cathartic moment/meeting. Lines can be drawn to show the relationship between themes and sub-themes. Concept maps are also used in other professions, such for planning and designing databases.
  • Mind maps – a mind map is a type of concept map but it’s less complex and usually created for personal reasons (such as study habits or daily routines). Mind maps are more like brainstorms that outline key tasks or ideas related to a central goal. You can be as creative as you like with mind maps; they can be simple or complex, colourful or plain. A mind map could be used to help learners outline their goals for the year.

Other types of graphic organisers include chains, ladders, sequences, processes, hierarchies, story webs, character organisers, brainstorms, jigsaws, storyboards and timelines.

You may also hear the term ‘advanced organiser’. Advanced organisers are a type of graphic organiser that are used ‘in advance’ of an activity (such as before students begin reading a new book). The KWL chart is an example of an advanced organiser. They help students to think about how and what to learn before starting an activity.

Graphic organisers show the relationship between one idea and another. They help learners to organise their thoughts, ideas, facts, understanding or beliefs all on a single page.

The main benefit of using graphic organisers is that they help learners to organise their thoughts, ideas and concepts in a visual way. Being able to visually see how aspects of a topic are related helps learners to more easily make sense of the topic. They can also speed up the learning process by helping students to identify and fill gaps in their skills, knowledge and understanding. Finally, graphic organisers are commonly used to support students with disabilities, particularly those with learning and neurological disabilities.

You can easily make your own graphic organisers. For example, suppose your class is learning about farm animals. Ask students to draw a circle in the middle of the page and sketch an animal. Then ask them to divide their page into 4 quarters to make statements about their animal. In the first box, direct students to write ‘I like to eat…’ as a title. In the second box, ask students to write ‘During the day I like to…’ and so forth until you have relevant sentence starters for all 4 boxes. Students should be encouraged to finish each sentence with as much detail as possible. Volunteers can be called to show and tell the class what they have written.

Graphic organisers are not only used by students. For example, project managers use Gantt Charts to plan out complex long-term projects. Fishbone (Ishikawa) diagrams are used to visually show and categorise the reasons for product defects, machine failure or other issues. An array of graphs, tables and charts are used in reports and research papers. Primary and high school students can also use these types of graphic organisers for various purposes. Finally, GUIs (or graphic user interfaces) are used privately (such as for fitness trackers) and in the workplace (such as for sales data). GUIs are simply a collection of multiple graphic organisers that summarise and show data in a user-friendly way.

About the author

Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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